Having recently started working as a Social Games Designer for Soshi Games, I’ve been having a lot of the following conversation:
Most People: “What are you doing now?”
Me: “I’m working on a music themed social game”
Most People: “Social… like Facebook?”
Me: “Yeh, Facebook is our first target”
Most People: “I’ve heard of Farmville, is it like that?”
Me: “Not exactly, no.”
Of course I don’t begrudge the fact that people automatically think Farmville when I mention social games, it’s a strong point of reference and its success is indicative of that.
The point I want to make in this post is that Farmville-type games have a monopoly over social games at the moment and the only way this is ever going to change is if designers (or perhaps that should be investors) stop seeing Facebook as a platform to make Schoolville, Bankville or any other kind of ‘ville and instead look at it as a games platform with unique features in much the same way as they would a traditional console.
Facebook, along with other social games networks, have unique qualities that a designer can and should be utilising. The Nintendo 3DS launches in Japan tomorrow and this, quite rightly, has been hailed by games developers as a unique device for which to make games. My point is that I’ve not heard any such praise for Facebook games.
There are a variety of things that Facebook has that no other games platform does. Okay, the ready-made friends thing has been done but what about player insights? There is such a wealth of information on people’s profiles, it’s a wonder why this hasn’t been utilised in a game (or if it has I’m not aware of it). Imagine earning items linked to the sports you like, or even where you live. That would appeal to me much more than a generic grey rabbit.
There are a number of games that are nothing like Farmville on Facebook, but as I’m sure you know there are many more that are nearly identical. This is synonymous with new platforms however, remember when the Nintendo DS came out and there was a deluge of training games following the success of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training? There was a deluge because developers saw a hugely successful game and copied its formula, hoping to cash in.
It took a while for the console to receive enough quality games that made good use of the various features, but these were truly groundbreaking games. We have yet to see this for social games.
A quick glance at AppData.com shows that seven of the top 10 games are either ‘ville games by Zynga or games that use a near identical formula.
I don’t want people to get the wrong impression from this post though, I ‘m not against Facebook games. I just want more choice. If I were to ask for the first game that popped into your head when I said Xbox I imagine I’d get a varied response from CoD:Blops to GTA IV to Mass Effect. If I were to ask the same for Facebook, I’m guessing 95% of people would say Farmville.